Rich, fragrantly spiced and elaborately prepared, Rajasthani cuisine offers an edible history of the region. A central part of hospitality and a crucial way to impress important guests, the area’s rajas favored a no expense spared attitude to cooking in their palace kitchens. As a result, today Rajasthan is as famous for its food as it is for its spectacular forts and romantic lakes. Here, chef Sujit Mukerjee, Executive Chef at the renowned Sheesh Mahal, Leela Palace in Udaipur provides an expert insight into this fascinating and complex cuisine.
You were born In Chandigarh but now run one of India’s foremost fine dining restaurants in Udaipur. What is it about Rajasthani cooking in particular that appeals to you?
Rich in royal history and a product of Rajasthan’s extreme climate, this unique cuisine has always intrigued me and I love experimenting with its flavors.
Can you explain a bit about how food is central to hospitality in Rajasthan?
In India, and especially in Rajasthan, any guest is treated almost as a God. The idea is that the best way to show one’s hospitality is to offer various delicacies to the guest and this concept has been part of the culture here for centuries. Historically, cooking was a way of impressing important royal visitors, so no expense would be spared on premium ingredients. There are even stories of peacocks being fed precious gems but that’s not something I replicate in my kitchen!
How did the region’s historic rajas influence Rajasthani cuisine?
The kings and queens of Rajasthan were always closely involved with the cuisine served under their roof. In fact, when a royal court traveled, they would often take the entire kitchen with them on their journeys! This close connection explains why Rajasthani cooking is very much influenced by the personal style and tastes of the rajas.
What is your favorite Rajasthani dish?
I can’t resist Laalmaas, a rich and seriously spicy mutton curry, or bajre ki roti, a comforting combination of millet flour flatbreads with gur (unrefined sugar) and ghee.
Are there any special Rajasthani cooking techniques that inspire you?
The technique of slow cooking allows me to create incredibly flavorful dishes and works particularly well with game meat, which the region is known for. I also like to use a large variety of spices, which is typical here. Rajasthan is also highly regarded for its vegetarian cuisine and a liberal use of spices really helps bring a dish to life. I’m always trying to learn about local cooking techniques because it inspires me to create new flavor combinations.
What are the most commonly used ingredients used in Rajasthani cooking?
I would say some of the key ingredients used are corn, spices, yogurt, besan (a kind of ground chickpea) and mathania chillies, which are locally grown in Jodhpur.
What savory dishes would you recommend to first-time visitors to Rajasthan?
Visitors must try Kadhi Kachori at least once. It’s a local specialty which is essentially a soup dish served with fried, filled dough balls. I’d also say that mirchi vada, which are delicious, fiery chilli fritters, are quite unique and a must-try whilst in Rajasthan.
As well as its savory offerings, Rajasthan is famous for its sweets. What are your favorites?
Rajasthanis certainly have a sweet tooth! The region has plenty of very tempting sweet shops and I love Ghevar, a sweet cake that’s soaked in syrup, as well as lapsi, a traditional dessert of broken wheat prepared with sugar and ghee.
Aside from Sheesh Mahal at Leela Palace, where else would you recommend for an authentic taste of Rajasthan?
For a taste of royal Rajasthan, I would head to Royal Repast. For coffee, I like Udai Art Café and for a sweet treat, it has to be JMB.
Get stuck into the flavors of Rajasthan on the Luxury Gold Essence of India journey.
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